2.3. Information transfer

In this section, I first address the question of whether information needs to be received in order that it is information. I will deny this and claim that information exists independently of any receiver. But if there is a receiver, then the question arises in which way information is transferred, and what are the preconditions that must be given.

For Shannon and Weaver, it was clear that information is a relationship between a sender and a receiver, with both applying the same language (the same set of signs or characters). Their basic principle is that of sender, channel, and receiver, as it was about communication engineering [1]. However, as mentioned in the last section, their approach influenced sciences and philosophy. C. F. v. Weizsäcker, for example, writes:

“Information is only what is understood.” [2]

However, he seemingly presupposes a rather weak concept of understanding, as he writes:

“ ‘Understanding’ can be meant as objectively here as with the mechanism of protein production which ‘understands’ DNA information by converting it into shapes of proteins.” [3]

And let me repeat the citation from Section 2.1, were Weizsäcker says:

“Modern biologists speak, for example, in genetics, quite legitimately of information […]. It is evident that terms of the information theory are nowhere more appropriate than here. However, here is nobody speaking, nobody who communicates something, or who understands a message. I don’t know a conclusive answer to this.” [4]

Despite this obvious difficulty, the majority might still hold the position that information, so to say, implies its perception and understanding, even if this understanding is not more than simple physical causality. The opposite and minority position is: Information exists independently of whether or not it is perceived and/or understood. This position was held by the biologist Tom Stonier:

“Information exists. It does not need to be perceived to exist. It does not need to be understood to exist. It requires no intelligence to interpret it. It does not have to have meaning to exist. It exists.” [5]

Likewise, Fred Dretske believed that information exists independently of an receiver. He writes about information:

“...and it exists there whether or not anyone appreciates this fact or knows how to extract it. It is something that was in this world before we got here. It was, I submit, the raw material out of which minds were manufactured.” [6]

If information is sufficient for being the raw material out of which minds were manufactured – that question will be addressed later. My own position regarding the question of whether information exists independently of a receiver results from the definition in Section 2.1: If (i) information is the form, structure, or shape of a thing or phenomenon, and if (ii) things or phenomena exist or happen in the world independently of whether they are perceived or understood, then it follows: Information does not need a receiver.

When I claim that information exists independently of whether it is perceived or understood, then I do not claim that the existence of information is generally independent of the existence of understanding systems – or better to say: the possibility of such systems to emerge. To claim this would hardly make sense. However, a world in which understanding systems can emerge is a world full of information – information waiting for becoming perceived and understood by those systems.

Further, my claim that forms or structures of things exist independently of our mind does not mean that they exist under the concepts under which we subsume them. When I say that something has the shape of a cube and that something else has the shape of a teapot, then it should be clear: Cubes and teapots are categories in our mind. But nevertheless, it is a fact that cube-shaped and teapot-shaped things are objectively different in a certain way from each other and from other things. It is that specific difference of information because of which we refer to these things as cubes or as teapots.

As already mentioned in Section 2.1., information can be transferred, which happens in manifold ways: In coining, the relief is transferred from the embosser onto the metal. A melody is transferred by sound waves from a music instrument to a listener’s ears. Information is transferred in the way that a physical process, that is, the effect of energy is formed or structured spatially and/or temporally. For example, the effect of the entire power of the embosser is spatially structured by the highs and lows in the negative relief: The effect of power (physical work) is greatest at the peaks, and lowest at the troughs. In speaking, the sound waves generated by the swinging vocal folds are formed spatially and temporally by articulatory movements of jaws, tongue, and lips, and then the sound waves – by their formed and structured energy – form and structure the response of the sensory cells in a listener’s ear.

Transfer of information, obviously, requires a ‘receiver’: a sufficiently susceptible material able to take on or to incorporate the information, i.e., the form or structure. Information transfer means that the receiver’s shape or behavior is (in part) formed or structured by energy that was formed or structured before by the form or structure of a thing or of an event. That’s the natural flow of information, which is based on causality, and which does not imply any kind of semantic understanding. The same is true for the DNA: Here, the ‘susceptible material’ is cytoplasm, particularly those molecules in it which are involved in protein synthesis

As we have seen, information is transferred by energy which was formed or structured. Norbert Wiener said: “Information is information not matter or energy.” [7] Yes, but both, matter and energy carry information if they are anyway formed or structured. In a physical event, information is the aspect which has to do with the effect and change of shapes and structures, in contrast to the aspect which has to do with the effect and conversion of energy. The examples above should have shown that both is closely related to each other. If we say that information is a property of things or phenomena, then it is meant in a causal and functional sense: Information is the effects which things or phenomena can have because of their form or structure.

In sum, we can say: Information is transferred by acting physically, namely as the spatial and/or temporal structure of energy. Information acts by being transferred.

 

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Footnotes

  1. Claude F. Shannon and Warren Weaver. (1948, 1972) The Mathematical Theory of Communication. Urbana: University of Illinois Press,  [⇑]
     
  2. C. F. v. Weizsäcker: Die Einheit der Natur. München 1971; p. 351, originally in German.  [⇑]
     
  3. ibidem.  [⇑]
     
  4. ibidem, p. 53.  [⇑]
     
  5. Tom Stonier: Information and the Internal Structure of the Universe. London: Springer 1990 , p. 21  [⇑]
     
  6. Fred Dretske: Precis of Knowledge and the Flow of Information. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 6 (1983), 55-63; p. 57.  [⇑]
     
  7. Norbert Wiener: Cybernetics or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine. New York1961, p. 132.  [⇑]
     

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